Your Classical and Jazz Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts Desk

Roberto Diaz: Once A Violist...

RobertoDiaz545px.jpg
Violist Roberto Diaz

When Roberto Diaz graduated from being principal violist of The Philadelphia Orchestra to president of the Curtis Institute, you could easily assume that one of the city's most charismatic performers would be mostly found behind a desk. Instead, The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns finds him preparing to premiere Jennifer Higdon's Viola Concerto, just one of the 70 to 80 other engagements he'll play in the coming year.

While a member of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Roberto Diaz didn't lack for showcases at Verizon Hall, where he often emerged from the ranks to play numerous concerti. Now his showcases are around the world - two of them in China this season - din a high pitch of activity that points to the music industry secret that once held him back: Orchestra's won't hire another orchestra's 's violist.

Its very hard for an orchestra to justify bringing in a soloist that's a member of another orchestra. If we're going to give a principal violist a chance to play a concerto, it has to be OUR principal violist. We ran into that a lot.

Giving up performing just isn't an option. It's who he is. Could it be that once a violist, always a violist? Diaz's stand partner while a student at Tanglewood was Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who went from being a violist to one of the most beloved mezzo-sopranos of her time, and in later years, told Diaz she never completely gave up.

She told me she does behind closed doors, she practices a little bit because she was missing it at that point...every so often she'd get together with friends... she's was a very good viola player.

Of course, practice time has to be more efficient now that Diaz is at Curtis.

It's busy. It's complicated. An old teacher of mine said every time you open your case, you should ask yourself "what" and "why."

For him, the "what" is playing  new music. And of the great revelations of working with living composers - a lesson he takes back to the Curtis Institute - is that composers don't always want you to play what's written, as in Edison Denisov's often severe Viola Concerto.

I said, Maestro, is this what you mean? Do you want it to sound exactly the way it's written? And he said, of course not! This is jazz. If you play it exactly what's written you'll miss the point.

More than any other orchestral instrument, the viola is the brunt of the most jokes. For example, how is a violist's fingers like lightning? Answer: they never strike the same place twice. But when a violist's life is this interesting, let 'em joke. There's even talk that Diaz' new recording of the Peter Lieberson Viola Concerto has Grammy Award possibilities.